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Email's Latest Razzle Dazzle: Billboards

Dawn Anfuso
Email's Latest Razzle Dazzle: Billboards Dawn Anfuso

Dawn Anfuso: Advenix just released VisualSubject, a graphical "billboard" that drops down from the email subject line. (To see how it works, visit http://www.advenix.com/visualsubject.) It's an interesting application, providing graphical information in the subject line to help the email stand out from the clutter. Can you tell me how the idea came about?



Justin Khoo is president and founder, Advenix.

Justin Khoo: I came up with the idea for VisualSubject after realizing how images on book, DVD and video covers immediately convey their content. We really do judge a book by its cover. Think about the last time you looked through rows of videos or books. What jumped out at you? The images: images that help you to decide whether or not the book or video is worth opening. In essence, a work's cover is often more powerful than its title in conveying its true message.


So that led me to consider email in-boxes and the hundreds of email subject lines that convey so little information. Finding the information that consumers really need often takes them so much time that they don't even bother to click through. Then I asked myself, could we develop a visual billboard or cover that could communicate the essence of the email message immediately? If we could, then email recipients could easily decide whether it's something they want to open or delete without the hassle.


And that was the beginning of VisualSubject.


Anfuso: In tests you've conducted (with 5.6 million emails sent out across nine separate mailings), you said you've seen, on average, a 27 percent increase in clickthrough rates and a 41 percent increase in conversions. Can you describe some of the applications that were successful?


Khoo: Promotions featuring tangible products benefited the most from visual imagery, or the added space for more textual information.


For instance, a promotion for a movie exchange service featuring DVD covers in the VisualSubject billboard saw a 60 percent increase in signups. Another campaign gave the recipient the chance to win an MP3 player (which was featured in the billboard) if they participated in a survey, and saw a 51 percent lift.


In another promotion for a brand-name "low cost" ISP, the subject billboard touted cost savings and saw a 100 percent increase in conversions. This success can be attributed to the VisualSubject billboard and the added information it provided such as the added benefits of the ISP's accelerator technology, as well as the logo of the service.


Anfuso: What type of marketers/products would this ad unit be best for?


Khoo: VisualSubject is ideal for consumer marketers that have tangible and visual products such as apparel, consumer electronics and entertainment items, as well as brand-focused marketers.


Anfuso: How does it work for a marketer? What technology is required to create this ad unit?


Khoo: Marketers create the graphics for the VisualSubject drop-down billboard at the same time they produce the email campaign. Before launching the campaign, the creative for the graphic billboard is uploaded to Advenix for later retrieval. The marketer then appends the email message with VisualSubject identifiers and distributes the email.


Advenix ensures that only authorized permission-based messages use VisualSubject by putting strict authentication mechanisms in place.


When a user logs into a webmail account at a portal or ISP that uses VisualSubject technology, emails with VisualSubject will appear with a special icon adjacent to the subject line. When the user moves his cursor over the icon, the graphical billboard is retrieved from an Advenix server and displayed.


To create the ad, the marketer just creates a 350 by 100 image, animated gif or Macromedia flash unit and uploads it to the Advenix server.


On the sender's mailer or sender's Email Service Provider (ESP), they need to provide an additional line in the header of the email for the VisualSubject identifiers.


Anfuso: What has response been like from advertisers who have tested it?


Khoo: The response from advertisers has been phenomenal. They are excited both from the boost they are seeing from the results as well as for the branding value. They have told us that they would like to see the technology widely adopted.


Anfuso: What about from consumers?


Khoo: The feedback from the consumers has been very positive. They see the ability to quickly scan through their opted-in email as a big plus. Where in the past they had to make a quick judgment to delete or open an email based solely on text subject lines, they now have more information to make a quick decision. Because visual imagery is processed more quickly than text, the billboard really helps speed up the process of reviewing mail.


Anfuso: Anything else marketers should know about this?


Khoo: In the end, VisualSubject is simply a better communications tool. If you're looking to convey information quickly, more accurately and get a higher response rate, marketers need tools that help them provide customers with the highest return on attention. In other words, make it easy for customers to get the message and make a decision. And, make it more engaging for them. Give them a better brand experience through a better email experience.


Dawn Anfuso is senior editor, iMedia Connection. .

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